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 Museum Explorer

Tools and technology in the Americas

Three harpoons

Length: 18.000 cm (longest)

AOA SL 1933.8;AOA SL 1933.15;AOA SL 1933.18

Three harpoons

From: Hudson Strait, North America (Inuit)
Date: 18th century AD

The Inuit people of North America have hunted seals using harpoons for thousands of years. These harpoon heads are carved from the ivory tusks of walruses. Each is fitted with a sharp metal blade. The harpoon head would have been fixed to a shaft usually made of driftwood brought in by the sea: there are no trees in the Arctic.

The hunter would throw the spear at a seal, walrus or whale, and the metal end would cut through the skin fixing the harpoon in the animal. The harpoon shaft would break away, leaving the harpoon inside the seal. A cord was always attached through one of the holes in the harpoon head. By pulling this line, the hunter could drag the dead or wounded seal towards him.